February 15, 2014

The Gender Gap in Getting Fit

Why do workouts that are specifically designed for women insist on encouraging sexiness?

I go to a gym or a dance studio or a workout class to get some exercise, learn a new skill, tone my body, relieve stress, and get healthy (and maybe lose weight) - not to be sexy.

When I go to the pool to swim laps, I don't think about how "sexy" my backstroke is. I'm thinking about not crashing into my neighboring swimmer by keeping perfect form and swimming in a straight line. When I do it right, maybe it looks sexy. But that's not the point.

Sure, I get it. Whatever it takes to make an activity palatable - especially for women who might be feeling gross when they sweat, or uncomfortable watching themselves in the mirror. Trust me, I get it.

But when I'm taking Zumba, I don't want to turn around and smack my own ass. I don't want anybody smacking my ass.

When I take bellydancing, I don't want to know which move is especially sexy - they're all sexy, it's bellydancing, a dance of seduction. I want to learn how to make my stomach muscles do that thing. I want to realize that shimmying while moving my hips in a figure 8 is so fun that I want to do it while I'm standing in line at the grocery store.

Why do women have to take classes like Catwalk Cardio in high heels and S-Curve and X-Pole on the stripper pole, all to be bootylicious and beach body ready?

Maybe sex appeal is an inner motivation for some. But take any personal training session with a guy - or Crossfit, Krav Maga, spring training, football training, Bowflex, bodybuilding, whatever - and the encouragement (or drill sergeant beratement) is about strengthening, tightening, leaning, building. Sure, those tight abs are sexy. But that's not the point of the whole thing.

I'm really tired of taking classes where I'm instructed to look in the mirror, imagine my guy there, and seduce him. I don't want to strike a pose. I didn't shower this morning, my shirt has a salt streak down the middle of the back from sweat, and my stomach is getting in the way of some of the moves.

Maybe I should be taking more yoga or pilates, which are typically focused more on correct posture and form.

Maybe I shouldn't take classes at all, and restrict my fitness routine to solo efforts like hiking and swimming. If I'm in a room full of women who are not my romantic prospects, who smell like yoga mats and feet and sweat and farts, I do not feel sexy, and will not act sexy. I have a problem with authority. I am your eyerolling student. I think I know everything, and when I don't, I burst into tears.

I cried recently during the last half of a Bollywood dance workout class, a discipline I really enjoy and am generally good at. But I didn't know some of those particular moves, and I was the only student who showed up. Instead of being able to hide in the back, or show off to the rest of the class how good of a grasp I had on the moves, all I could do was watch myself - a big, white cow - lumbering around the dance studio in the giant, unavoidable mirror wall.

To comfort me after class was over, the instructor tried to tell me - convince me - that I'm beautiful. But that's not the problem. I don't care if I'm beautiful or not. I have been more beautiful than I am right now; I have been less beautiful than I am right now. But right now, I'm overtired, underslept, overworked, underpaid, underloved, misunderstood, misanthropic, fibromyalgic, rheumatic, arthritic, astigmatic, dysthymic, dystopic. Telling me I'm beautiful doesn't fix any of that.

Telling me to act sexy doesn't empower me. It disenfranchises me. It makes me feel like it's my only recourse - a panacea for all my professional, financial, personal, and romantic woes.

And besides, you can't teach sexy. You're either sexy or you're not. And if you're not, you can't just act sexy. That doesn't do anything for anybody.

Related Post:
Not Hot Enough

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